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People can afford to be more honest than they think

Most people value the moral principle of honesty. At the same time, they frequently avoid being honest with people in their everyday lives. Who hasn’t told a fib or half-truth to get through an awkward social situation or to keep the peace?

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New research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business explores the consequences of honesty in everyday life and determines that people can often afford to be more honest than they think.

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In the paper, Asst. Prof. Emma Levine and Carnegie Mellon University’s Taya Cohen find that people significantly overestimate the costs of honest conversations.

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“We're often reluctant to have completely honest conversations with others,” said Levine. “We think offering critical feedback or opening up about our secrets will be uncomfortable for both us and the people with whom we are talking.”

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The researchers conclude that such fears are often misguided. Honest conversations are far more enjoyable for communicators than they expect them to be, and the listeners of honest conversations react less negatively than expected, according to the paper, published in the Journal of Experiment Psychology: General.

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For purposes of the study, the researchers define honesty as “speaking in accordance with one’s own beliefs, thoughts and feelings.”

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In a series of experiments, the researchers explore the actual and predicted consequences of honesty in everyday life.

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In one field experiment, participants were instructed to be completely honest with everyone in their lives for three days. In a laboratory experiment, participants had to be honest with a close relational partner while answering personal and potentially difficult discussion questions A third experiment instructed participants to honestly share negative feedback to a close relational partner.

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Across all the experiments, individuals expect honesty to be less pleasant and less social connecting than it actually is.

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“Taken together, these findings suggest that individuals’ avoidance of honesty may be a mistake,” the researchers wrote. “By avoiding honesty, individuals miss out on opportunities that they appreciate in the long-run, and that they would want to repeat.”

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Citation: “You can handle the truth: Mispredicting the consequences of honest communication,”  Levine et al., Journal of Experimental Psychology, September 2018. doi: 10.1037/xge0000488

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—Article originally appeared on the Chicago Booth website

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UChicago to welcome new students into intellectual community

Members of the Class of 2022 will move into their residence halls on Saturday, kicking off Orientation Week and the start of their academic journey at UChicago.

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O-Week includes eight days of events and programs that introduce students to campus, UChicago traditions and the community of scholars that make the University an intellectual destination for students from across the globe.

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On Sunday, first-years will bid farewell to their families before joining their peers in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel for Opening Convocation, the College’s formal welcome to the University. The event will be webcast live beginning at 3 p.m. and will include remarks from President Robert J. Zimmer and Dean of the College John W. Boyer. A bagpipe procession will then lead students to Hull Gate, where the UChicago community will welcome students in a lively celebration.

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Graduate students will gather Tuesday for their own bagpipe-led procession and Convocation at Rockefeller Chapel, during which several featured speakers will welcome the students and set the stage for their time at the University.

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At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Prof. Gabriel Richardson Lear will present the Aims of Education Address. A UChicago tradition since 1961, the event features a UChicago faculty member speaking to the entering class about the unique aims of liberal arts education at UChicago. Following the address at Rockefeller Chapel, which will be webcast on Facebook Live, UChicago faculty members will join students back in their houses across campus for discussions.

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As O-Week comes to a close, students will have the opportunity to socialize at a Reynolds Club party and attend a welcome celebration with faculty, staff and returning students at the Museum of Science and Industry.

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$120 million to support next-generation battery research

The U.S. Department of Energy announced its decision Sept. 18 to renew the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research, which is led by Argonne National Laboratory and focused on advancing battery science and technology. The department plans to fund the center for a total of $120 million over the five-year renewal period. The University of Chicago is one of the partners in the center, known as JCESR.

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“Advances in energy storage will drive U.S. prosperity and security,” said Argonne Director Paul Kearns. ​“By enabling partners across the national labs, academia and industry to forge collaborations and leverage one-of-a-kind scientific tools, JCESR will continue taking on profound scientific and technological challenges and fueling the innovation that will secure our energy future.”

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Established in late 2012, JCESR is a partnership made up of national laboratories, universities and an industrial firm. Its mission is to create next-generation energy storage technologies that will transform transportation and the electric grid in the same way lithium-ion batteries transformed personal electronics.

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“JCESR’s first five years have yielded important science breakthroughs, helped launch three startups—Blue Current, Sepion and Form Energy—and produced more than 380 published scientific papers,” said JCESR Director George Crabtree. ​“The knowledge we’ve gained has introduced new approaches to battery R&D and will guide our research in transformative materials for next generation batteries for many years in the future.”

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In addition, using computational methods, JCESR researchers screened over 24,000 potential electrolyte and electrode compounds to help accelerate the search for new battery architectures, data that was made publicly available to the broader battery research community.

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The announcement was made by Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science Paul Dabbar at the InnovationXLab Energy Storage Summit held at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

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In the next five years, JCESR’s vision is to create disruptive new materials deliberately constructed from the bottom up, where each atom or molecule has a prescribed role in producing targeted overall materials behavior.

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Future JCESR research will be aimed at energy storage technology for a host of emerging applications, including resilient future electric grids, distributed energy management for more reliable and efficient energy delivery under all conditions, fast-charging electric vehicles and even regional electric flight. While energy storage remains the key for all of these applications, no single battery type is capable of filling all the widely varying requirements.

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What is needed, according to Crabtree, is a range of designer batteries, each tailored to the requirements of its host application. At the same time, each of these designer batteries must perform multiple, often competing tasks such as frequent cycling and long life, high energy density and slow self-discharge, or fast charging with little or no safety risk. The mission of the renewed JCESR is to create the science to, in the words of Crabtree, ​“lay the foundation for a diversity of next-generation batteries for a diversity of uses.”

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—Adapted from the release by Argonne National Laboratory

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Scientists predict extinction risk for hard-to-track species

Species are going extinct all over the world: Scientists believe that Earth is losing between 200 and 2,000 species every year. That number is squishy, partly because there are so many species for which they lack good data—particularly those living in the oceans, which are difficult to track but still critically important to ecosystems and livelihoods. Even the most comprehensive evaluation of extinction risk—the international Red List of Threatened Species—has only spotty data for many species around the globe.

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A new study from University of Chicago scientists offers a tool to predict extinctions for hard-to-count species. Their method takes advantage of the fact that while some species are hard to monitor while alive, many of them leave extensive fossil records.

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“Today’s extinction work tends to focus on animals like us—mammals and other vertebrates that live on land,” said Katie Collins, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago and first author on the paper. “But most things that live on the planet don’t have a backbone, and a huge part of the world’s biodiversity lives in the sea, where our picture is really incomplete. It’s much harder to get a handle on extinction there.”

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Collins and David Jablonski, the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Service Professor of Geophysical Sciences, along with a team of researchers at UChicago, the Smithsonian and the University of California, San Diego, wanted a way to estimate extinction risk for species that are short of directly measured data.

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A key part of the puzzle came when they realized that the fossil record could help. Jablonski has been building a database of fossils of marine bivalves—creatures like scallops, mussels and oysters—for many years. That database allowed them to review the history of extinctions and develop a set of predictors about which species are most likely to go extinct.

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“Fossils give you a bird’s-eye view of lineages. You can see the first and last occurrences for different species, and it can also tell you how often these lineages split into new species, how often they go extinct, and where they were when they did,” Collins said.

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How likely a species is to go extinct depends on a lot of factors, but there are a few key predictors. One is range size. If the species can only live in a small part of the Gulf of Mexico, a single oil spill could wipe out the entire population. Temperature tolerance matters too: If it can survive under a wider range of temperatures and conditions, its chances are better. “Some widespread species can also handle wide temperature changes, but a huge number of warm-water species are actually tracking a narrow band of temperatures,” Jablonski said. “That means that a geographically widespread species can still get clobbered if the temperature changes beyond its ability to cope.”

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They built these predictors into a metric they called PERIL, or Paleontological Extinction Risk In Lineages. The first step was to test it, by winding the clock back two and a half million years, to the end of the Pliocene epoch. They had the tool “predict” the fates of species living in two widely separated ecosystems: off the coasts of California and New Zealand. The result: “It does a very good job of predicting who’s going to live and who’s going to die out,” Collins said.

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From there, they applied the metric to the present day, mapping out the oceans on a scale from high to low risk of extinction.

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“This gives us a new, global picture of extinction risk in this economically important marine group, far beyond what’s available from the Red List,” said Jablonski. For example, Collins said, “There’s nearly 6,000 species of bivalves in the ocean; the Red List has only been able to assess 29 of them, and of those, 15 are marked ‘data-deficient.’”

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A couple of hot zones jumped out immediately, the scientists said: The coast of Southeast Asia is precarious; so are areas in the Antarctic, the Caribbean and New Zealand. “There are some scary situations where key foodstock species live in very fragile areas,” Jablonski said.

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Though they tried it with marine bivalves, the process could be repeated with any group of living things with a reasonable fossil record, the scientists said.

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“Our goal is to produce a method that can be used alongside the Red List, and provide assistance for conservationists dividing up limited resources—where to get the biggest bang for your conservational buck, so to speak,” Jablonski said. “The PERIL metric is a new tool for pinpointing species and places that would benefit most from protection and management.”

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Postdoctoral researcher Stewart Edie also co-authored the paper, as well as University of Chicago alumni Gene Hunt (now with the Smithsonian Institution) and Kaustuv Roy (now at UC-San Diego).

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Citation: “Extinction risk in extant marine species integrating palaeontological and biodistributional data.” Collins et al, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Sept. 18, 2018. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2018.1698

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Funding: NASA, National Science Foundation.

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Edward Wasiolek, renowned scholar of Russian literature, 1924–2018

In his 40-plus-year career at the University of Chicago, Prof. Emeritus Edward Wasiolek became a renowned scholar of Slavic and comparative literature, particularly of Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

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Wasiolek edited five volumes devoted to the notebooks for Dostoevsky’s novels, translated and edited volumes on Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, and wrote the widely acclaimed Dostoevsky: The Major Fiction (1964). He also wrote Tolstoy’s Major Fiction (1978) and gave a distinguished presentation on Tolstoy to the United Nations in 1988.

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Wasiolek, who passed away on May 3 at age 92, taught from 1955 to 1996 at UChicago, where he was the Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Comparative Literature and the College. He also served as the chair of the Comparative Literature program and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures.

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“Ed was instrumental to the resurgence of the Department of Comparative Literature, which exists today because of his dedication and passion,” said Françoise Meltzer, the Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the Department of Comparative Literature. “He was a remarkable colleague, scholar and friend.”

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Among his numerous awards, Wasiolek received the Gordon J. Laing Prize from the University of Chicago Press in 1973, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Guggenheim Foundation, and the coveted Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1962.

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Wasiolek was born April 27, 1924 in Camden, N.J. After serving in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1946, Wasiolek earned his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and his master’s degree from Harvard University. While earning his PhD at Harvard, he served as a research associate at the Harvard Russian Research Center and contributed as an assistant author to one of its early publications.

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Wasiolek began his career at Harvard University as a teaching fellow in 1953. Originally hired at UChicago in 1955 in the Department of English Language and Literature, he later joined the newly formed Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures and the Comparative Literature program.

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In 1948, Wasiolek married Emma Jones Thomson, and they had three children: Mark Allan, Karen Lee and Eric Wade. Teaching at UChicago “was the best part of his life, besides his family and his beloved summer home in the Northwoods,” Karen Wasiolek said.

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